Friday, February 24, 2023

Who Are You People: Movie Review

A quietly powerful and compelling family drama.
A drama that sneaks up on you by balancing a story that looks familiar but becomes a very important and powerful tale about morality. Who Are You People starts with Alex (Ema Horvath), a snarky, lonely, rebellious teenager who writes stories for English class about how nobody understands her and how her parents hate her and then retreats into her self-loathing defense.   2023

Directed by: Ben Epstein

Screenplay by: Ben Epstein

Starring: Ema Horvath, Devon Sawa

The character of Alex is pretty common for drama-comedies and one can cover that up by saying that’s what teenagers are like. There certainly is a familiarity to Alex, but at the same time, maybe she’s right and her parents really do hate her? They seem like normal parents, an overly-anxious lawyer father (John Ales) and a superficial mother (Alyssa Milano), but the things that Alex notices like how they dote after her younger sisters and just blaming her whenever anything goes wrong, suggest there’s more to Alex than just being an angry teenager.

The tipping point is Alex seducing her English teacher and when that works in a way it really shouldn’t and Alex overhears her father saying she’s not really his kid, she then starts searching for the truth. One secret letter, one ruse to explain her sudden absence from her new boarding school, and one bus ride later, Alex is at the front door of her biological father - Karl (Devon Sawa) and his older cousin he lives with named Sarah (Yeardley Smith).

Again the movie presents a fairly familiar image of a middle-aged man just discovering he has a daughter and a lonely and angry teenager desperate to connect with somebody to help her make sense of who she is. When presented that way, it sounds like the movie should be corny. While the movie does walk alongside a lot of common tropes, there is fresh ground with these characters. There’s a significant reveal in the third act of the movie which throws away everything familiar and explores a serious issue with its effects on a victim who never identifies herself as such, a perpetrator who has spent a lifetime unsuccessfully proving that he’s a different man, a teenage girl struggling to understand where she came from, and the realization of how hard that is on both of her parents.

Ema Horvath does a great job of keeping the movie from ever getting too dark. She presents Alex’s self-loathing tendencies with a much-needed comedic edge and gives the film this sharp dramatic tone that really works. Meanwhile Devon Sawa and Alyssa Milano get to play two of the most complex parents that this type of family drama rarely sees. Sawa’s Karl is a sober alcoholic who has a violent and troubled past and is trying to use religion and the presence of a morally upstanding friend to keep him on the right path. The past of Milano’s character Judith doesn’t come up until near the end, but when she does have to confront her past, everything from earlier in the movie gets a new layer to it.

It's more tense and dramatic than most people would expect, but Who Are These People presents an interesting and compelling family drama. While it does look very familiar at times, it needs the familiarity to ultimately tell a very balanced tale about past trauma, absolving yourself of guilt, and how to move on. And it does all of that without judgement.

One of the Best of 2023